Diva Green’s Pumpkin & Coconut Soup

I am having a little affair with vegetarian food. Over the last 6 months, I’ve been losing interest in meat and poultry. Seafood I’m still pretty excited by, but for some reason, when there is meat or chicken on the table, I have scant portions or none at all. I’m much happier when a meal is vegetarian. In the kitchen, I’ve been deviating from the standard dal-roti-sabzi and rice+sambar+thoran routine and making stuff that is out of my comfort zone, keeping vegetables at the center of the plate. And I must credit this flurry of vegetarian cooking to Ritu Dalmia’s cookbook, Diva Green.

I know, I know what you are going to tell me- Ottolenghi’s books are a must-have for anyone who is interested in vegetarian cooking. And I’m going to get one soon, I promise. (Ummm…which one first? Ottolenghi, Jerusalem or Plenty?)

image courtesy | thecityguide.in

image courtesy | thecityguide.in

Anyhow, I came across Diva Green while I was rabbit-holing through cookbooks on Amazon. I enjoy Ritu Dalmia’s TV shows and her cooking style, but I was not sure whether to pick it up. Plus, Amazon didn’t have a preview for the book, so I couldn’t even browse inside. I added the book to my wishlist and let it be. Then I found a copy at Landmark bookstore, and I sat down with it. The book opened onto a recipe for Burmese Tomato Salad as I placed it in my lap- and I was hooked. I just fell in love with the diversity- Italian and Vietnamese; dishes from Kerala and Karnataka;  desserts ranging from baked cheesecake to Bavarian knodel.

I’ve cooked many recipes from this book, and each one of them has been a success. I tweaked a little here and there, substituting some ingredients, but overall, this is  a neat cookbook with a wide range of recipes. Familiar dishes like kadi and desi potato fry get a refined flavour-boost thanks to her techniques, and you may discover some dishes you hadn’t heard of before, like Burmese Tomato Salad and Plecing Kankung (spinach with sambal.)

The one I’m sharing today is a Vietnamese soup, made with pumpkin and coconut milk. It’s rich and creamy without being heavy, and pretty healthy too! I’ve tried my hand at pumpkin soup before, and it came out slightly bland and a little too rich, thanks to cream taking the place of coconut milk. In this soup, the seasoning is uncomplicated- just salt and pepper- but the boiled peanuts add a distinct Southeast Asian flavour, and  make it more fun to eat, too. (Plus: protein!)

Ritu Dalmia's pumpkin and coconut soup

Ritu Dalmia’s pumpkin and coconut soup

This is a simple soup recipe that is low on effort and ingredients required, but high on flavour.

PUMPKIN & COCONUT SOUP (From Diva Green)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 kilogram pumpkin, de-seeded, peeled and cubed
  • 1/2 cup shelled peanuts
  • 25 ml olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 250 ml coconut milk
  • Salt and pepper to season

METHOD

  • Parboil the pumpkin in salted water till tender. Drain and set aside. Keep the water to be used later in the soup.
  • In another pot, boil the peanuts in salted water till tender. Drain and set aside.
  • In a large pan, heat the olive oil. Add the bay leaf, onions and garlic and sautee for a few minutes.
  • Add the partially cooked pumpkin pieces and cook for a few minutes. Then add half the boiled peanuts.
  • Next, take the bayleaf out of the pan and discard.
  • Puree the pumpkin+onion+garlic+peanut mixture in a blender or food processor until smooth and creamy.
  • Pour this mixture into a large pot, add the coconut milk, salt and pepper and cook over medium heat. Add as much of the pumpkin water as needed to give it a soupy consistency.
  • Add the remaining boiled peanuts.
  • Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve!

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Beet Salad With Mint + Scallion Pesto

Since I have posted wayyy to many sweet treats, I thought I’d take a break from it and serve up something lighter. Both in tone, taste and preparation. This one’s from- hold your breath- Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Turshen’s cookbook It’s All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great.

This cookbook has been quite polarizing on the interwebs, much like Gwyneth herself. (I’ll admit I am not a big fan of her personality, her crusade as a lifestyle guru or her consciousness spiel, but I do like visiting her website Goop.com to browse through recipes- they have some good ones!)

Now the inside flap of the book starts off talking about Gwyneth’s “clear eyes, glowing skin and fit body…,” none of which I care for. I’m quite happy with my eyes (they are neither bloodshot nor cloudy,) and my skin is pretty ok for someone who does not apply much of anything to it, and as for my body, it’s definitely not Tracy Anderson Method-approved, but I manage to get some exercise each day and I am at peace with it. (I’m not walking any red-carpets, so I don’t feel the need to get my body “red-carpet ready!!!”)

Oh yes, back to the book.

image courtesy | eater.com

image courtesy | eater.com

Now, there are some paragraphs that are pretentious, along with some cringe-worthy pictures that don’t really make sense. Like, for instance, GP riding a Vespa, and another one where she is sideward-glancing while wrapped in a blanket. And of course, there is name-dropping: recipes from her ‘besties’ Cameron Diaz and Gavin Rossdale…but she’s a celebrity, and celebrities befriend celebrities, so it is but natural that they swap recipes, no? So yes, there are few portions you’d want to skim over, but once you do, you’ll realize that there are some pretty neat recipes beneath it all.

image courtesy | eater.com

image courtesy | eater.com

The book is based on GP’s elimination diet and many, many everyday products are avoided, like dairy, gluten, sugar, coffee. (I don’t have any issues with dairy or gluten, so I used whole wheat pasta where brown rice pasta is called for, and cow’s milk where a recipe called for almond/rice milk. The flavours are great, and since I’m not planning to get on a diet, I tweaked away.) 

Having said that, the salad, vegetable and grains sections have plenty of wonderful recipes that can be recreated with ingredients that are easily available in India- and many are naturally vegan and gluten-free. Sweet potatoes, corn, eggplant, beets, leeks, carrots, mushrooms, daikon radish (regular desi mooli.) Most of these vegetables can be found in markets in India. There are of course, some veggies and grains (romesco, kale, quinoa) that I don’t have easy access to, but even without those recipes, there is enough variety to choose from.

This beet salad is one of them. Easy, delicious and can be made ahead and assembled before lunch/dinnertime.

Scallion mint pesto from It's All Good

Scallion mint pesto from It’s All Good

The mint+scallion pesto is a keeper- I used it on toast, tossed in pasta, in omelettes, as a topping for crackers- versatile, like pesto should be. The raw garlic gives it a pungent, almost spicy punch, and the toasted almonds add great depth. And nibble!!

 

Drizzle the pesto over the beets, or just gob them on like I did.

Drizzle the pesto over the beets, or just gob it on with a spoon like I did.

BEET SALAD WITH  MINT +SCALLION PESTO (From It’s All Good)

The Beets

500 grams steamed or roasted beetroot, skins removed and cubed/sliced into discs

The Pesto

  • 1/2 cup toasted almonds
  • 2 small garlic cloves, minced
  • A dozen scallions (spring onions) white and light green parts only, chopped
  • 1/3 cup mint leaves (pudina)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil (the book calls for extra-virgin, I used regular)
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice (I used desi nimbus)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (the cookbook calls for coarse sea salt, which I had, but I think table salt would be just fine

Puree all the ingredients in a powerful blender until smooth.

 

To assemble, arrange the beets on a plate and pour/drizzle/dab the pesto all over it.

Yes, that’s all it takes :D

Great, Chewy, Everyday Blondies | Chocolate Chunk Blondie Recipe

I’m sharing one more blondie recipe with you. Sans bananas. Just a regular blondie with some chocolate and nuts, and sure, you can add some  butterscotch chips in there too, for good measure. It’s a one-bowl crowd pleasing treat. The recipe is from my current favourite baking book, Pooja Dhingra’s The Big Book Of Treats. I’ve baked about a dozen recipes (some, many times over,) from the book so far, and each and every one of them has turned out well.

While I have made some wonderful cakes and cookies from Nigella Lawson’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess, I find The Big Book Of Treats way more useful because it comes from an Indian pastry chef, writing for an Indian audience, keeping the Indian kitchen in mind. I shall post a detailed review once I’ve baked a few more treats from the book!

This should be your base recipe when you want to make blondies, and a go-to recipe for those times when you have surprise guests, a last-minute dinner party or a school bake sale you didn’t know about!

 

Blondie moment

Blondie moment

(Ok I’m going to honest with you- these last-minute situations never seem to happen with me. My family and small circle of friends are pretty good with advance notice- so we know when someone’s coming around for a meal. And my son is 3. So not many bake sales happening around these parts. But so many easy store-cupboard recipes come with the promise of solving the busy-trap, so I had to put it in there.)

These are quick, easy to put together and ready in under an hour. And chewy-crusty-gooey delicious. My chocolate chips actually melted in the summer heat and welded into one solid, bumpy mass, so I had to hack away and break it up into chunks. And it actually worked really well for this recipe, because irregular-sized chocolate pieces lend an element of surprise as you bite in. You don’t know if you’re going to get a little fleck of chocolate on the tip of your tongue, or a nice big gob of melting goodness.

I’ll be honest with you…even though I’ve glossed eloquent about how simple, low-effort and minimal-energy these blondies are, you don’t have to keep them for a rushed day: bake them for a special occasion too. (I know, I know, the right term is waxed eloquent, but when talking about food, you’d much rather something be glossy than waxy, right? Except potatoes.) 

I encourage you to bake them because they are really good to eat. Sweet. Chocolatey. Nutty. A little crunchy and a little chewy. And their simplicity is what makes them charming.

I take my chocolate chunks very seriously.

I take my chocolate chunks very seriously.

These are great with ice cream and make for much better milk-dippables than Oreos. Be sure to add nuts- a little nibble makes it much more fun.

EVERYDAY BLONDIES (Adapted very slightly from The Big Book Of Treats)

INGREDIENTS

  • 100 g butter, melted
  • 200 g brown sugar (I used Mawana light brown sugar)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • Seeds from 1/2 a vanilla bean
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 120 g flour
  • 60 g of walnuts + chocolate chunks

METHOD

  • Preheat the oven to 175 C
  • Grease and line an 8-inch baking tin (I used a 6×6 inch square tin and it worked fine,) and set aside
  • Sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda in a bowl and set aside
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy
  • Add the beaten egg and vanilla bean and whisk some more
  • Fold in the flour mixture
  • Fold in the walnuts and chocolate chunks
  • Pour the batter into the prepared tin, spread evenly and bake at 175 C for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean

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